Thursday, October 29, 2020

the ottawa small press book fair : home edition #22 : Kees Kapteyn

Kees Kapteyn: I was raised in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, and now live in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada where I work as an educational assistant.  I have a published chapbook entitled Temperance Ave. through Grey Borders Books as well as having been published in such magazines as Blank Spaces, Wordbusker, Writing Raw, In My Bed, blue skies, ditch, Novella, Corvid Revue and Revolution 21 as well as various editions of Canadian Author’s Association Niagara’s poetry and short story anthologies. Self-publishing adventures include the fiction chapbooks Holocene and A Hierarchy of Needs.  Most recently, my short story “Geosmin” was included in the Alanna Rusnak Publishing fiction anthology Just Words 4.

Q: Tell me about your writing. How long have you been publishing, and what got you started?
A: I write fiction of varying lengths. Until recently it’s been short stories and flash fiction but in the last year I’ve been committed to a full length novel.  I’ve been publishing since the early nineties, running along with the zine phenomenon that had tied itself to the indie scene back then. I would hijack the photocopier at work late at night and churn out a hundred or two copies of whatever cut and paste thing I’d contrived at that point. These were fiction chapbooks, poetry chapbooks and an arts and culture mag that I put out somewhat regularly.  It was pretty fun joining this community of other creative people across Canada.  I got to connect with people that I never would have even known about otherwise, being pre-internet and all.  I was invited to conferences, zine shows, benefit concerts and other cool things.  It was a great start.  In 2016, I set up Smidskade 9 Press as a vehicle to participate in shows like the ottawa small press fair, and to act as an umbrella under which to keep my published works.

Q: How many times have you exhibited at the ottawa small press fair? How do you find the experience?
A: I’ve been part of the ottawa small press fair twice now and it was a great experience both times.  They were opportunities to network with different presses and individuals in the community and it was also a way to educate myself in what other people were doing with their presses.  It was also a way to get a feel for what the industry (can we call it that?) was up to.  People were so open to talk shop and have been just as curious as I was about the whole thing.  You, rob, you embody that attitude and I’m so glad you present these opportunities because they’re crucial for this community.
Q: Would you have made something specific for this year’s fairs? Are you still doing that? How does the lack of spring or fall fair this year effect how or what you might be producing?
A: I have a couple stories that I was going to slap together as chapbooks for the next show.  I want to do it in a more professional manner rather than just street-level cut, paste, xerox and staple.  That will take money, but I think it’s what I have to do to present a sellable product.  Gone are the days of the 5th-generation-image punk zines.  The lack of public displays like the press fair this year only makes me switch to other modes of creating.  It hasn’t really slowed me down.
Q: How are you, as literary writer, approaching the myriad shut-downs? Is everything on hold, or are you pushing against the silences, whether in similar or alternate ways than you might have prior to the pandemic? How are you getting your publications out into the world?
A: Working in education, the shutdown gave me the precious opportunity to dive into forming my novel.  Every day I did a little bit of something and at this point I can say that I have about ¾ of the rough draft done.  As far as hard copy output, I’m just promoting my fiction chapbook.  Since it looks like we are about to slip into another mass shutdown, I’m not keen on putting anything more in stores, since they all look like they will sink into temporary obscurity, being deemed as non-essential services. Quarantine without books? Seriously?!  They sound pretty essential to me!!
Q: Have you done anything in terms of online or virtual launches since the pandemic began? Have you attended or participated in others? How are you attempting to connect to the larger literary community?
A: I like to keep up with new releases and support my friends and colleagues.  I’m glad we have the online platforms to do readings because I was really missing them.  It’s so great to see people like Pearl Pirie, Phil Hall and Heather Haley putting works out and going public despite the restrictions.
Q: What is your most recent book or chapbook? How might folk be able to order copies?
A:  My most recent professionally published work is a book of flash fiction called Temperance Ave., and it’s available from Grey Borders Books.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: Right now I am working on a novel I’m calling LefTturn.  It’s about a fella whose wife has been unfaithful and the ensuing separation puts him into a kind of existential tailspin.  The universe is trying to give him clues as to what he should do to get his life back on track, yet he either ignores them or simply does not see them.  As the book progresses, the signs become more and more apparent and outrageous, to the point where strange, supernatural things start to happen.  I’m having a lot of fun with it, and as I’ve said I’m about ¾ through the rough draft, so hopefully it will be ready for the streets in a year or so.  Maybe by then we’ll be done with this pandemic?  I sure hope so!

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Talking Poetics #30 : Valerie Coulton

four words and a quote

When I started writing with intention, I would go to a café in Berkeley on a Saturday morning for two hours. I would take my notebook and some books that were in play for me, by writers like Kathleen Fraser. I was still living with my then husband but falling deeply in love with my poetry teacher. I would drink a little coffee, swim around in the books, and then, filled up with language, do what I called “dipping the bucket”, which was writing whatever showed up for me for about twenty minutes. Even though I called it “dipping the bucket”, my mental image was more like casting and hauling in a big net of silvery fish. Then I would sort through the fish and make some poems. These I would “type up”, often at work on Monday, and take into the poetry workshop.

Now I have lived in Barcelona for many years with my poetry teacher, who is also my favorite poet, Edward Smallfield. He invented a writing prompt that has served me unfailingly for the last 24 years. It consists of a personalized postcard with four words and a quote. He used to pass these out in workshops, and then everyone would write for 15 minutes, with the option to read our pieces aloud if we were so inclined. The writing that came out of this exercise was often astonishing, and sometimes led to book-length projects.

We continue with our postcards every week, in our private two-person Sunday workshop and in the four-person workshop we have with our friends and parentheses co-editors. We also use it, among other prompts, in the generative monthly workshop we teach, and it tends to be everyone’s favorite.

So, a poem often starts for me with a postcard. It might seem to be the image that sparks something, or the words/quote, but my sense is that it’s really the tension between the elements that makes something happen. Sometimes even the postcard fine print is important. Sometimes I use all the words, sometimes none of them. Whatever happens, though, feels like it couldn’t have happened if I’d simply sat down to write.

Here’s an example from our Sunday workshop on August 2nd.  The postcard was of a woodcut by José Guadalupe Posada titled “Gran Fandango y Francachela de todas las Calaveras” The words were: sweet, battle, smoke and clatter. The quote was “we’re all dead men conversing with dead men”. Here’s the first poem that came from this:

el día de los muertos

the sea is not our home
someone sang
a floor of monsters
in the mind
something speckled, adrift
spine without body
swimming to nowhere

in our world
there is one bat
maybe two
small leather hunters
in the air between
us & everyone else

you have written of sweet wine
& the dead
those sugar skulls for sale
terra nova

As I’d been inspired mainly by the image up to this point, I decided to make another pass, trying to use all the words this time:


in the battle
to remain ourselves
sink clatter
our neighbourhood bat
& the voices
of our bones

So, what happens to these “postcard poems”? Sometimes they’re stand-alone pieces, sometimes the beginning of a conscious series, and sometimes the beginning of an unconscious series whose pattern and coherence emerge over time. Lately I’m aware of new strands coming into my poems, different voices, memories, dreams and fears. I notice once again that whatever the prompt, the work is always my work, a product of whatever is under the surface waiting to be brought to shore.

Valerie Coulton’s books include small bed & field guide (above/ground press), open book (Apogee Press), and The Cellar Dreamer (Apogee Press). With husband Edward Smallfield, she’s the co-author of lirio and anonymous, both from Dancing Girl Press. She lives in Barcelona and co-edits parentheses, an annual journal of international writing.

Friday, October 16, 2020

the ottawa small press book fair : home edition #21 : Brian L. Flack/Point Petre Publishing,

Brian L. Flack is the publisher of Point Petre Publishing. The novels In Seed Time, With A Sudden & Terrible Clarity, and When Madmen Lead the Blind, and a collection of poems -- 36 … Poems -- are among his published works. He is also a contributor to several other books, among them Nino Ricci: Essays on His Works and Discourse and Community: Multidisciplinary Studies of Canadian Culture. He has contributed, over the last 50 years, literary & social criticism to periodicals, and academic journals, and written many reviews for newspapers. For several years, he was the host of a weekly radio programme, “Bookviews”, on Q-107  in Toronto. In another life that he enjoyed for almost 40 years, he was a Professor of English Literature. He is married to the painter Susan Straiton.

Q: Tell me about your press. How long have you been publishing, and what got you started? 

Point Petre Publishing (PPP) was established in 2017. It’s designed to be a small operation, publishing only 2 or 3 books a year. What lies behind its existence is the publisher’s understanding of the incredibly difficult time first-time writers have breaking through the bulwarks of mainstream publishing. The deck is stacked and there is not much “give”. The idea was and is to help out in that area as well as publish writers who already have a track record.

Q: How many times have you exhibited at the Ottawa small press fair? How do you find the experience? 

PPP has been to the OSPF 3 times over the last 3 years. It’s a fine way to connect with readers and writers. And, of course, sell a few books! The reading at the Carleton on the Friday evening is a highlight. 

Q: Would you have made something specific for this spring’s fair? Are you still doing that? How does the lack of spring fair this year effect how or what you might be producing? 

PPP would have had a new book of poems in time for the Spring Fair, but that was shelved … not because the Fair was cancelled but because of COVID-19. At the time the book would have appeared, every bookstore in the country was closed. The author, an older writer, decided against even trying again in the Fall as her desire to be out and about in the community in the midst of this pandemic was, in the Spring, and remains to this day, less than encouraging … and quite rightfully. As a result, a launch, visits to bookstores, and readings at several venues could not have happened. The book probably won’t see the light of day until the Spring or Fall of 2021 … if then.

Q: How are you, as a small publisher, approaching the myriad shut-downs? Is everything on hold, or are you pushing against the silences, whether in similar or alternate ways than you might have prior to the pandemic? How are you getting your publications out into the world? 

PPP is effectively shut down for the time being … at least as far as releasing new titles. The publisher continues to be amenable to receiving manuscripts that will fit PPP’s publishing preferences – poetry and literary fiction, so that when this is virus has been tamed PPP will be able to jump right back into the game. Submissions, though, have slowed to something less than a trickle. PPP suspects that many writers simply do not want to play chicken with this virus and be “out there”. But … prospective authors can still send manuscripts. They should go to PPP’s website ( for submission guidelines.

Bookstores, hurting from the long shutdown have also pared back … they are stocking fewer books than they used to because customers are scarcer and most are not hosting book launches. For the time being, orders of books from the backlist are going to have to sustain PPP. This can be done by e-mail. People can write for a book or books – send an email to pointpetrepublishing or go to the website at where pricing is available – and they will be shipped.

Q: Have you done anything in terms of online or virtual launches since the pandemic began? Have you attendeor participated in others? How are you attempting to connect to the larger literary community? 

PPP has had no virtual launches because there have been no new books. Nor has PPP attended any other Fairs. For the moment, PPP does not have much connection to the larger literary community … this is at least partially due to PPP’s remote location in Prince Edward County, Ontario.

Q: Has the pandemic forced you to rethink anything in terms of production? Are there supplies or printers you haven’t access to during these times that have forced a shift in what and how you produce? 

It has. PPP’s printer shut down for some time. Suppliers for other materials – paper, ink, etc. – also shut down. As did PPP. Almost everything went on hiatus … except for the internet.

Q: What are your most recent publications? How might folk be able to order copies? 

A backlist of PPP’s recent books can be found at Those titles can be ordered at

Q: What are you working on now? 

PPP is reading and assessing all manuscripts that come its way, hoping to find a gem or two that can be made ready for publication when the virus emergency comes to an end.

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Talking Poetics #29 : Chris Banks

On Power Ballads And Poetics

Where does the nesting essence of a poem come from for me? Not sure I really want to pin down an answer seeing as my most favourite poems are the ones where the poem moves in unexpected directions along unexpected pathways. For me, the kernel of an idea that becomes a poem can begin with a title, a simple casual line thrown out like, “Some days my heart is a wolf caught in a steel trap”, or maybe even a piece of music, the opening distorted chords of Joan Jett’s cover of “Crimson and Clover” – Ta Dum Ta Dum Ta Dah! 

When I was younger, the form of a poem, the actual nuts and bolts of putting a poem together was a laborious enterprise as I worked in tercets or quatrains. Each line break was scrutinized for its overall aesthetic “look”—and poems slowly took shape. They were an amalgam of image and line. At first, I wrote small lyric poems, and then later densely packed narrative and meditational poems.

Now, I write very quickly and recklessly. The forms I choose are stanza-less, giant block-like passages that river down a page. My line breaks I like to keep as uniform as possible, but I no longer count syllables as I did, say, in my book “Winter Cranes”. The rush of ideas, the quick shoe-horning of surprise, these things are much more important to me now as I began to move away from my childhood autobiographical material into lightly surreal territory. As I wrote in a recent poem, what do you find when you run out of childhood in a poem? The goods.

My poems now feel like love letters to the imaginary world. A world that saves us from the despair and ennui of this one. I love when I can’t keep up with the ideas that are falling through me onto a page. Each line a jumping off point to some new strange “turn” in a poem.

Other poets are still important to me but those writers who influence me have changed over the years. At first, as a poet in my twenties, I was obsessed with Gwendolyn MacEwen and Patrick Lane—and then later Larry Levis, Dave Smith, Jack Gilbert, and Philip Levine—most recently, I have been reading Dean Young, Bob Hicok, and Kim Addonizio. There are many others but these are my seminal influences.

If someone was to look at the whole expanse of my writing, they would see a myriad of layouts and approaches so I’m not sure I have really any fixed definition of “form” in poetry anymore. I like what the American poet Hayden Carruth said about form. Something to the effect that the form of an orange is not just its appearance, but the fruit inside also makes it an orange. I guess I believe that.

Ta Dum!  Ta Dum!  Ta Dah!

I’m all for sturdy beginnings like the opening chords
of Crimson and Clover, the Tommy James original
or the Joan Jett version with its teasing distortion,
the latter bringing me back to Grade Eight dances,
my crush on Natalie Beaudoin who slowly circles me
off in a corner in my thirteenth year, a little too close
in the dark, but now I want to get some EDM into
this next line so I connect a drum machine to a rose
changing Stein’s phrase a rose is a rose is a rave! All
things worth doing are worth doing feverishly. If you
are waiting for the chorus to hit, I am sorry to tell you
this is not a song. Not even close. Yeah.…I’m not
such a sweet thing…. is an invisible button I have
pinned to my chest wherever I go. It’s Friday all day
and phone scammers have only phoned me twice
demanding money for tax evasion. Show me yours,
and I’ll show you mine is my short take on the senses
and the imagination. Pinkie swear. Love, sickness,
English gardens, rocket ships. I’m all in. Totes.
Can you keep a secret? Alright this is a song of sorts.
The verse we have reached is full of star systems
and flight plans. The melody changes the pH levels
in the oceans, and the universe happily claps along.
My day job includes eating bananas, and unspecified
aches in my joints. Getting older is a slow rotisserie
of bills and panic attacks you are forced to eat. At
least the beauty of this world survives as we age,
no matter how much we try to dismantle its allure  
with new condo builds and Pay Day loan stores.
Thank-you for the boutonnière. After the dance,
we will go our separate ways but I will take you
home with me, your breath on my neck a little
memento I never told anyone about until now.

Chris Banks is a Canadian poet and author of five collections of poems, most recently Midlife Action Figure by ECW Press 2019. His first full-length collection, Bonfires, was awarded the Jack Chalmers Award for poetry by the Canadian Authors’ Association in 2004. Bonfires was also a finalist for the Gerald Lampert Award for best first book of poetry in Canada.  His poetry has appeared in The New Quarterly, Arc Magazine, The Antigonish Review, Event, The Malahat Review, GRIFFEL, American Poetry Journal, Prism International, among other publications. His next collection Deep Fake Serenade is forthcoming from Nightwood Editions in the Fall of 2021. He is the poetry editor at The Miramichi Reader. He lives and writes in Waterloo, Ontario.